On Monday, 4th November 1935, it was formally announced that Britain’s railways were to benefit from a loan totalling £30,000,000 (£2,216,000,000 at 2021 prices) for modernisation across the country. The Government offered favourable interest terms, and finance was made available for electrification schemes, station rebuilding (the flagship project being that of the LMS’ reconstruction of Euston), procurement of up-to-date locomotives and rolling stock, colour-light signalling, extension of track circuiting, and much more (ref: News Chronicle, 5th November 1935). For the Southern Railway (SR), it included the following planned electrification schemes:

  1. Hampton Court Junction to Portsmouth via Woking and Guildford
  2. Woking to Farnham
  3. Weybridge to Staines
  4. Dorking to Arundel Junction
  5. West Worthing to Havant
  6. Branch lines to Littlehampton and Bognor Regis
  7. Sevenoaks to Hastings via Tunbridge Wells
  8. Gravesend and Swanley Junction to Chatham and Gillingham
  9. Strood and Otford Junction to Maidstone

Swanley had seen its first electric trains in 1935, on extension of third rail to Sevenoaks from St Mary Cray; scheduled services began on 6th January of that year. On the same day, regular electric services also commenced to/from Sevenoaks via Orpington. The Gillingham scheme, of which this section concerns, included building a new station at Swanley, west of the junction where Chatham and Sevenoaks routes diverged. The existing station at that time, opened in 1862 and named "Swanley Junction", comprised two pairs of platforms serving four tracks, immediately east of the diverging routes. A key advantage of having platforms west of the junction was that Maidstone/Sevenoaks and Gillingham trains could join together and divide at the station in the "up" and "down" directions respectively. Additionally, it allowed services to and from the alternate routes to pass each other in the station.

Extensive engineering works involved widening the cutting west of the junction, to accommodate two island platforms serving four tracks. Each island was built to a length of 820-feet, being 28-feet at the widest point, and at the time it was remarked that the station would be able to accommodate the longest of electric trains. The platforms were faced with prefabricated concrete components, no doubt a product of the SR’s works at Exmouth Junction. Waiting rooms and toilets were provided on both islands, a refreshment room was established on the "down" platform, and all of these structures were of red brick construction. Generous canopies of 395-feet-length were erected on both islands; these were built to a standard SR design, demonstrating a W-shaped cross-section with plain timber valance, a type which came into use at numerous of the company’s stations during the 1930s.

In the 21st April 1939 edition of the Tonbridge Free Press newspaper — which recounts numerous details about the then new Swanley layout — it was noted that temporary station buildings were provided [at high level, atop the "up" side of the cutting], because permanent structures were in abeyance until the course of a proposed bypass road had been finalised. Nevertheless, the temporary booking office still accommodated a parcels office and bookstall, and was linked to the platforms by an enclosed metal footbridge with large red brick staircases. Attached to the latter were a pair of shafts housing electric lifts. On the "down" side, provision was made for the inclusion of a passimeter (a ticket-collecting kiosk) at a future time, if required.

Swanley: 1960

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

At the eastern end of the "up" island platform, beyond the footbridge, a substantial signal box was brought into use. Of red brick construction, this was built to the-then in fashion "Odeon" style, as per that still in evidence today at Woking. This signal box superseded two existing cabins — one adjacent to the junction on the "down" side of the main line, the second on the "up" side of the incoming Maidstone/Sevenoaks route, opposite the goods yard of the original station — comprised 80-levers, and had an illuminated diagram. Points and signals were electrically-worked, and the area covered by the "Odeon" signal box was fully track-circuited (ref: Southern Electric, 1909-1979, G.T. Moody).

The goods yard associated with the original station, beside the Maidstone/Sevenoaks route, was retained. As part of building works, the curve at the junction where this line diverged was eased, to increase the speed limit from 20 MPH. An existing bridge that carried a public footpath over the running lines, west of the junction, was moved to a new position, and an enlarged electric high tension switchgear room erected (ref: Tonbridge Free Press, 21st April 1939).

The then new station, plain "Swanley", opened on Sunday, 16th April 1939, having cost £130,000 (£8,575,000 at 2021 prices) to build (ref: Tonbridge Free Press, 21st April 1939). The August 1939 edition of The Railway Magazine stated that the previous Swanley Junction station had been demolished, although the main buildings and platform edges in the fork of the diverging routes survived for many years later. The ceremonial inauguration of electric services from Gravesend to Strood and Maidstone West, Swanley to Gillingham, and Otford to Maidstone East, occurred on 30th June 1939; regular electric trains commenced on 2nd July. Power was supplied by the Central Electricity Board through a substation at Northfleet, this in turn of which fed fifteen other substations remotely controlled from a room at Swanley. The latter comprised fifty-four panels for substations and track-paralleling huts (ref: The Railway Magazine, August 1939).

Post war, the British Transport Commission set-up a Working Party to produce a report into improving the capital’s railways. The findings identified the widening of the 4-miles 73-chain stretch of line between Bickley Junction and Swanley as a priority, so additional tracks could accommodate trains providing a service to the London County Council’s St Paul’s Cray estate (ref: Bromley & West Kent Mercury, 8th July 1949). The laying of two additional tracks on this section eventually became part of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme, which was approved in February 1956. Heavy earthworks between Bickley Junction and Swanley, to provide a course capable of accommodating quadruple track, began in August 1957, with the help of eight excavators and six scrapers (ref: The Railway Magazine, May 1958). Substantial retaining walls were built alongside sections of the widened railway and eleven bridges were constructed. Additionally, a new viaduct and station were built at St Mary Cray.

20th June 1954

A London-bound view shows the chalk cutting west of the platforms, prior to the widening works that began in summer 1957 to accommodate an additional two tracks. Stewarts Lane-allocated Class N15 “King Arthur” No. 30773 “Sir Lavaine” is seen hauling a rake of Blood and Custard BR Mk 1 carriages, forming a Victoria to Ramsgate via Chatham service. The sand drag — on the left — and all sets of points seen here disappeared during quadrupling works, although a trailing crossover was installed between the tracks serving platforms 1 and 2. © David Glasspool Collection

Prior to the start of the then new Kent Coast electric timetable, passengers were asked to prepare for what was termed a "crisis weekend" by the Traffic Manager of the Southern Region’s South Eastern Division. Widespread service cancellations and some diversions were to take place over the weekend of 30th/31st May 1959, to permit new track formations and colour light signalling to be brought into use. Delays and slow running of trains was also expected for several days afterwards. From 10 A.M. on Saturday, 30th May, until 4:00 A.M. on 1st June, no trains were scheduled to run between St Mary Cray and Swanley; additionally, from midnight on Saturday, 30th May, to 4 A.M. on Monday, 1st June, no trains were scheduled to run between Shortlands and Bickley (ref: Faversham News, 22nd May 1959). In British Railways’ formal signalling instruction (No. 8 South Eastern Division, 1959), it was stated that the additional lines between Bickley Junction and Swanley, in addition to colour light signalling between Beckenham Junction, Bellingham, and Farningham Road, were to come into use at 10 P.M. on Sunday, 31st May 1959. At the Swanley end, works went beyond 04:00 on Monday due to a crane failure (ref: Southern Electric, 1909-1979, G.T. Moody). The full accelerated electric timetable on the "Chatham" main line came into effect on 15th June 1959.

Public goods facilities were withdrawn from Swanley on and from 16th May 1964 (ref: Clinker’s Register, 1980). As mentioned earlier, the original goods yard adjacent to the Maidstone/Sevenoaks route, allied to the previous junction station, survived the works of the late 1930s and it is to this which the closure date refers.

The "temporary" ticket office on the "up" side, at high-level, survived the electrification works; however, by 1971 it had been replaced by a single-storey structure of brown brick construction. This was a flat-roofed rectangular building with a timber valance, adjacent to its predecessor on the "up" side, and linked directly to the footbridge.

24th February 1979

2-HAP No. 6112 is seen entering platform 1 leading a Ramsgate to Blackfriars service, which had travelled via Sevenoaks. The fence along the top of the cutting on the right marks a public footpath that crosses the railway on a lattice bridge at the western end of the platform canopies. © David Glasspool Collection

The signal box at Swanley was scheduled to become redundant in May 1983, on the completion of the £35 million Victoria Area Signalling Centre, located at Clapham Junction. Work on the latter began in 1976 and, when finished, would control as far as Thornton Heath on the Brighton Main Line, and Longfield on the "Chatham" line via Penge East and the Catford Loop. Additionally, the panel would cover Swanley to Bat & Ball, Streatham to Cheam via Mitcham Junction, Holborn Viaduct to Sutton via Wimbledon, and Balham to Crystal Palace. Completion of the signalling centre came just a month behind schedule, in June 1983, replacing thirty individual signal boxes (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 1983). The signal box at Swanley was abolished on Sunday, 19th June 1983 (ref: British Rail Southern Signal Instruction 38CD/59SED, 1983). Previously, on Sunday, 27th March of that year, control of the "Chatham" Fast and Slow lines between Bromley South (exclusive) and Swanley (exclusive) came under the control of the Victoria Signalling Centre (VS).

On 22nd November 2021, train operating company Southeastern formally announced the completion of a station refurbishment scheme at Swanley. This included a glazed extension of the existing “up” side ticket office, refurbishment of the footbridge, an upgraded “down” side entrance, and new canopy cladding. Improvements were also made to lighting, waiting rooms, and toilets, in a scheme that cost £5.5 million to deliver. Funding came from a combination of Network Rail, Sevenoaks District Council, Kent County Council, and Govia Thameslink Railway.